By Chris Chamberlain on Wed, Nov 12, 2014 at 8:03 AM
Traditionally, whiskey and tequila are aged in oak barrels. To be bourbon, those barrels need to be new oak that has been charred and/or toasted. Tequila depends on used barrels to house its relatively brief oak nap, and usually those barrels have already held whiskey for years. But a new generation of spirits products are experimenting with unusual barrel options to add depth and character to their releases. Last month, I told you about the new Ruby Cut product from Cumberland Cask, a whiskey that benefits from some creative experimentation with used California port barrels.
Locally, Green Brier Distillery is also playing around with finishing some of their popular Belle Meade Bourbon in casks that had previously been used to age oloroso sherry in Spain. Oloroso sherry is known for its extremely rich flavor, and the remnants left in the barrels contribute an amber color and depth of flavor to the Reserve stock of their flagship bourbon, which has already been aged for at least nine years in new oak before meeting the sherry casks.
In other Green Brier news, Charlie and Andy Nelson have also released a Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee White Whiskey. Bottled straight from their spanking new still, which they affectionately call “Miss Louisa,” their Tennessee White Whiskey can be considered a preview of their charcoal-mellowed product that is currently aging for future release. More of a curiosity than a linchpin product, Green Brier's white whiskey has a nice clean taste with clear corn notes that promises what could be a good addition to the Tennessee whiskey canon in a few years.
More experienced distillers are also utilizing unorthodox casks to add character to their products. Two Brown-Forman brands are leveraging their parent company's wide tendrils to provide special barrels to finish some of their newest releases. Woodford Reserve recently announced the ninth installment in Woodford Reserve’s Master’s Collection series with Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish. Since B-F also owns the California winery, it's logical that they partnered for this remarkable release.
Since bourbon must technically be aged in new oak barrels, this edition of Woodford is not technically a bourbon. But what it is is an extremely fruit-forward expression of whiskey with a long earthy and oaky finish. This unique product is a limited release that just came out, so if you're lucky enough to find a bottle, jump on it! Well, maybe just open it and drink it instead.
Another Brown-Forman brand, Herradura Tequila, also has their own master's series. Their Colección de la Casa, Reserva 2014 — Scotch Cask Finish Reposado is the third release of special editions of their already exceptional reposado tequilas. This time, the lovely gold agave juice has undergone a double maturation process after resting in two different types of oak casks, American oak and single malt Scotch casks.
I was fortunate enough to attend a tasting dinner put on by Herradura earlier this week, and I can personally attest that the result of this special maturation is a unique tequila with notes of vanilla, butter, honey and caramel and a long, sweet oaky finish thanks to the contributions of the scotch. The scotch fan on your holiday gift list might really appreciate the smoky characteristics imparted by the extra three months in used scotch barrels after 11 months in a mix of new and used American oak. Herradura invented the concept of reposado tequilas, so they went back to the source as the base spirit for this really remarkable tequila.
Also just recently released in limited quantities, Herradura Colección de la Casa, Reserva 2014 — Scotch Cask Finish Reposado retails for around $90 a bottle, but it's worth it as a special and rare treat. Bud's in Green Hills and Midtown Wine and Spirits are two fine liquor stores that should be receiving their small allocation of Scotch Cask Finish this week, so hurry on down.